Figuring out that you’re queer or trans* can be one heck of a ride. You can go through all sorts of emotions – good and bad. For some people, their sexuality or gender identity isn’t a big deal. For others, it’s life changing. When you first begin to question your sexuality or gender identity, it can be really hard to know where to start. We’ve broken things down a little to get you on your way.
Coming out can be a scary time, and everybody’s experience of this is unique. There is no right or wrong way to do it- just remember to go at your own pace and that you are not alone.
Our groups here at RY offer a fun and safe space to meet other queer or trans* youth and to get advice and support as you figure out your sexual or gender identity. Check them out here on the groups page.
- Coming out is different for everyone.
- There is no right or wrong way to tell others who you are.
- You don’t owe it to anyone to come out – do it for yourself and when you’re ready.
- Experiencing fear and anxiety about telling others that you identify as queer or trans* is normal. Abuse and rejection are not.
- You deserve to be treated with respect.
Everyone’s coming out story is different.
You can check out a few here!
Knowing Who You Are:
- You may find that the popular “labels” don’t fit exactly how you feel about yourself – that’s okay!
- It may be helpful to use your own words to describe how you feel, rather than use a word you’re not comfortable with or one that can cause misunderstandings.
- Rather than trying to find a label, work out what makes you happy. That could change over time and that’s okay!
You’re Not Alone:
- Get support from others that you trust.
- There will always be someone who is willing to listen and help out. If you can’t think of anyone you know personally, take a look over at Curious for a regional guide of the queer and trans* groups in your area that can provide support for you. Or if you’re Auckland based, you can head over to our groups page to see which one suits you.
- If you feel as though you are isolated, or your safety and well being is compromised, there are services such as Youthline, Lifeline, OUTline and What’s Up which provide free over the phone counselling and advice.
- If you feel pressured to tell someone you don’t trust, take control and make a choice to wait or not tell them.
- Coming out doesn’t mean you have to change anything because other people expect you to. You are in charge of your appearance, behaviour and thoughts.
- When you decide to come out to someone, choose your time carefully. Think what may be happening in the other person’s life at that time that could compromise their ability to be supportive of you.
- If someone isn’t accepting right away, that doesn’t mean they never will be. Some people need time to process the information.
- You don’t just come out once. Often when we meet someone new, change a job or school, we find ourselves faced with the decision to come out. It feels daunting to be constantly facing this challenge, but it gets easier as time goes on and you gain a better understanding of how to handle people’s reactions.
- There are some amazing things to be gained from ‘being out’. This includes boosting your confidence, gaining a sense of freedom, earning respect from others, deepening personal relationships and fulfillment of self-expression.
- There are lots of different words used to describe sexuality. It’s worth checking out our useful words page to see a few.
- It is not always black and white. You might like boys and girls, both, neither or you might be not sure right now. That’s okay! It’s important to understand that feeling something for a member of the same-sex doesn’t mean you immediately need to label yourself.
General Stages of Queer Sexual Identity Development:
- Identity confusion (what the heck is going on with me?)
Because of the overwhelmingly heteronormative society we live in, people tend to grow up assuming that they are straight. Everyone else expects so too. So when you start to have feelings for someone of the same gender, it can make you feel all kinds of confused and upset. You might not even be ready to say out loud how you’re feeling, or deny it when someone asks you. You might also start secretly looking for more information (like on this site, which is a good place to start!).
- Identity comparison (what’s going on in other people’s love lives?)
As you start exploring and getting used to your queer sexual identity, you may begin to realise the difference between yourself and others. You may see no ways of identifying with the other people in your life, including your family/whanau or friends, this can be a very isolating time. You might start reaching out to queer and trans* organisations like us, or attending queer or trans* groups in your area to connect with other people who know what you are going through.
- Identity tolerance (I guess its okay that I am different)
Eventually, you’ll start getting used to your sexuality or gender identity. This could come about through learning how you identify, being educated on what this means, and may have built up some support outside your family and friends (online or through previously mentioned groups).This might be around the time when you start thinking about telling your friends and whānau.
- Identity acceptance (I am who I am)
Now you’re at the stage where you’re used to the idea of being queer and you’re okay with it! When you’re ready to come out, it’s good to find out what the experience was like for others. Our groups are useful for sharing these stories, and there is also a wealth of these personal stories on the internet.
- Identity synthesis (Being queer is one aspect of my life, but there are many others too)
This stage is all about getting on with your life. Hopefully by now, being queer is not an issue for you. You know that there are times when it feels right to talk about your sexual identity, and times when you’d prefer not to. In the wake of your new confidence in yourself, other people’s acceptance has become less important.
- Gender identity is a person’s own sense of identification as male, female, neither, both, or somewhere in between.
- Sometimes people get confused about the difference between gender and sex. Gender refers to the gender that someone identifies with, while sex is usually refers to the sex someone is assigned at birth. It can be helpful to think of it as: sex is between your legs and gender is in your head/heart.
- You’re sex is usually determined by a variety of things including chromosomes, reproductive organs and secondary sex characteristics. Sex also works as a continuum, with male and female at either end, and in between is intersex. Intersex refers to the people who are are born along the continuum between male and female. Someone can be intersex due to chromosomes, hormones or reproductive organs. Its a lot more common than what a lot of people are aware of.
- Gender refers to how you identify, someone can identify as male, female, in between, both, or neither. Gender identity can be influenced by culture, feelings, thoughts, clothing, people around us, and more. It can be helpful to think of gender as a continuum, with male and female at either end. Our ideas, and social constructs influence what male and female at either end of the spectrum look like, and you can identify any where in between.
- Transgender is usually used to describe people who were assigned a sex at birth and identify with a different gender identity.
- A recent study found that in New Zealand 1% of young people identified themselves as transgender, and 3% were unsure of their gender identity. So if you feel like you weren’t born with a body that aligns with how you feel about yourself, or even feel somewhere in between, you’re not alone! RainbowYOUTH runs a group specifically for young people who are Trans* or questioning their gender.
- At RainbowYOUTH addition of an asterix to the end of the word ‘trans’ is a special effort to indicate that the term functions as an umbrella term for an extremely varied range of identities, including culturally specific ones. We here at RY use the term trans* to indicate that they include identities such as: whakawahine, tangata ira tane, FtM, MtF, transsexual, fa’afafine, transgender, whakawahine, transmen, transwomen, akava’ine, leiti, genderqueer and gender-neutral people.
Some things to be aware of :
When someone comes out and asks you to use different pronouns, it’s really important that you do your best to use them. It can be difficult, and everyone makes mistakes so just make sure you say sorry if you slip up. It means more than you can imagine!
Deciding what name to use can be tricky, and some people change their name more than once before finding something they feel they identify with, so it’s important to be respectful and do your best to use the name they ask you to.
A lot of people who don’t identify as cisgendered go through a mental battle every time they have to use public toilets. It might not sound like a big problem, but can be scary as hell! Public toilets are like gender guarded forts, with soldiers protecting them with their disconcerting looks and subtle comments. So if you see someone in the toilet , just assume they know which one they are in.
If someone tells you they are transitioning, don’t ask whether that makes them “gay or straight”. Gender and sexuality are two completely different things, and people who come out as trans don’t do it so that “they can finally be straight”.
Don’t ask questions about genitals, surgeries, or former names. They are very sensitive subjects and its important to be respectful.
- Surgeries and Hormones
Everyone takes a different transition path.Some people go on hormones, some people don’t. Some people have surgery some people don’t. Just because someone identifies a particular way doesn’t necessarily mean they want to take hormones, or have surgery. So be careful not to pressure people into following the transition path you think is right for them, they will find the right path for them.
- Respect privacy
If someone comes out to you reassure them that you will keep it private. And thank them, its a huge compliment to your trustworthiness.
- Be a good friend
Reassure them that you are there if they want to talk and tell them they aren’t alone.
RainbowYOUTH has a group specifically for people who aren’t cisgendered, or who are questioning their gender, called Star*, and there are also a number of other groups around NZ which are supportive. These can be a great safe way of meeting people who are going through or are going through what you are, and they can be a great source of support. For information, check out Curious.